Governor denies corruption probe reaches to her

NC Governor Beverly Perdue (Steve Helber)
April 20, 2010 3:42:18 PM PDT
Ruffin Poole, former aide to Governor Mike Easley, pleaded guilty to a federal tax evasion charge Monday and agreed to cooperate in the investigation of his old boss. Now, the question is where that investigation might lead.

Federal investigators aren't saying who they're targeting in the probe, and Easley has not been charged with anything.

Poole was accused of participating in an elaborate pay-to-play scheme, in which a real estate developer would give him lavish gifts and secret investments, in order to make sure various permitting issues were resolved.

What he admitted to was not reporting a $30,000 investment return to the IRS on a coastal subdivision called Cannonsgate. Prosecutors said at the same time he made that money, he helped grease the wheels for the permitting of Cannonsgate, which was being financed by Lanny Wilson, a politically ally of Easley's.

Easley and his wife purchased a lot at Cannonsgate in late 2005 and received a $137,000 discount, according to documents.

Wilson, a former member of the state Board of Transportation, also raised campaign money for Easley and current Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. Wilson resigned from the board the day Poole was indicted.

Perdue has made transparency in government a mainstay of her administration, and told ABC11 Tuesday that any suggestion the Easley case could reach to her is ridiculous.

"I'm the governor for 15 months who's done anything possible to throw open the windows of state government, to have full transparency, to focus on ethics and how people set government straight," she said.

But critics say the question is not ridiculous when at least one of the key players in the Easley case also had a major role in Perdue's election.

"When we hear that Lanny Wilson tried to bribe the Governor's top aid, and then the next governor comes in and chooses that person to be chair of her campaign finance team? We have real problems in North Carolina," offered political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer in an interview Monday.

Perdue has repeatedly maintained she has done nothing wrong, and told ABC11 Tuesday that in the current economic climate, the people should not be distracted by continual criminal prosecutions and investigations.

When ABC11 continued to press the question of if she's been contacted by investigators Tuesday, she grew heated.

"I just told you, that question is absolutely ridiculous. I find it offensive. The answer is no, but I'm irritated that you would even ask a question like that," said Perdue before walking off.

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